Friday, February 24, 2017

Sergio Ortiz Returns

Let's start with Sergio's poem inspired by Etta Jones.

Walking in the Limbo of Words

the lighthouse of the indefinite
trafficking voices of absence,
skeleton walls smuggle freedom.

My country: a poem under an illegal shade.
A sun full of cameras rides
my skin like ghosts
who claim what is rightfully theirs. 

I lead the echoes of my flight
to a heart masked 
as theatrical delirium,
my wrinkled memoir  
slow dancing to Etta Jones’s,
I found a dream, that I could speak to. 
A dream that I can call my own.  
At last I touch your lips 

with my revolutionary blood
and leave my confession 
on your cinnamon eyes.

With No Punctuation 

You insist on dealing with my silence
by making sure no one rises to my defense

Between the lips of your vulva 
scented flowers
open locks
on doors that listen 
to what belongs to me

No endless
no monsters
nothing of the low note
by my voice

To be able to sing
with amazement
with no punctuation 
or alarm

Reparations to Eros

May silence never ride 
on the dormant back of a heron. 

May it leave a homeopathic drop of luck 
on the waters of my trembling body.

May my skin bear no resemblance
to the unshakable epidermis 
of a frozen pachyderm.  

I must confess, I am in debt
to a slave driver's arms.
Tasted his fruit, 
but could not distinguish 
sour from sweet.

Black Salt

You fall beyond your sap / abated remembrance / vile fear of tears // In you my heart / a circle of fire / black salt on the river banks of your Himalaya // And I am shipwrecked / confused tangle of dreams that mocks the cacophonous memory of water.

A Thousand Darknesses
In memory of the Holocaust Victims and Celan

We went to Mirabeau Bridge
and paid your promise.

The hours passed
on the Seine, our lives

increasingly smaller 
grew confident

thinking a suicide chose 
the side of the Tower

where nothing ends up falling.
We threw our coins in the water.

No Country for the Elderly
The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song
Sailing to Byzantium
By William Butler Yeasts

I set the rain on fire, lacerated the sun
with my straight razor
so I could part company with time.
I'm saving my abysses
to scamper away from the cold
so as not to be disgusted with death.

This country is no place for the elderly,
the ridiculous collections of antiquated scores,
birds bebopping jazz melodies on the autumnal tree
of sensory music that ignores everything.

Teenagers standing on God's sacred fire
turn to me and say…
Stick to being the teacher
of your wrinkled breath.

Of course, I must start with some Etta Jones.  Here is her "Don't Go to Strangers":

Her "I'll Be Seeing You" also features her long-time love, the tenor saxophonist Houston Person:

Let's play some vibes.  My husband made a request for some Jason Marsalis.  Here is his "The Man With Two Left Feet":

Another song of his is "Offbeat Personality":

Back to the papers!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tad Richards and Sheikha A.

Tonight Tad Richards combines two of my favorite things: jazz and weather imagery.  The poem below is from his collaboration with visual artist Nancy Ostrovsky.  It's also part of a series "about a young woman, the daughter of a modestly successful jazz musician, who has left her husband and is trying to figure out who she is, mostly using jazz as a conduit to her inner self." This time the jazz musicians whom Tad invokes in this poem are men born in the 1930s: Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, and Lee Morgan. 


A front of warm air reached our region
around noon today. During
the afternoon, it will ooze on in,
probe with sticky, eighty degree fingers,
so that, she supposes, she could drive
in and out between yesterday’s clammy cold
and the oozing certainty of muggy heat,
like a county with local option on daylight saving,
or the sound from her rain-drenched speakers,
a few bars of Hank Mobley’s reassuring bebop,
then silence. She imagines the missing solo,
how Wynton Kelly might have picked it up,
brought it to where the sound kicks in again.
Lee Morgan is a harder read. Lost,
she moves inside to the weather channel.
The front is squatting now, threatening 
impossibly heavy storms—or did he say
possibly heavy storms? A guy calls,
she met him last week. He just wants 
to make sure she has candles on hand.
Hurricane lanterns are better. She asks him if
he could fill in the missing parts of a Hank Mobley solo.
Sure, he says. How about Lee Morgan?
Sure, he says. Him too.
No, you couldn’t, she says.

To read other poems in Tad's series, see these links:

I also want to add two poems that Sheikha A., a poet from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has sent me.  Her first poem "Swaying Crows" reminds me of all the crows I see in my neighborhood these days: flying, perching in trees, even strutting down the street with the kids.

Swaying Crows

This afternoon, crows opened
their mouths to pigeons:
a debate on lost seasons.

It wasn’t long until a murder crowded
the neighbour’s sill drowning out
the sun from warming the water bowl.

In my city, leaves have yet to see
the gloriously transparent 
red visit for a coating.

The poor leaves know just one colour:
when smoke from roaring motors
plough their roots, these leaves know

just one way to bloom. Crows have
(always) the vision of a surly lover.
Voices that have been told

they’re too loud for an evening
with the stars. How leaves hatch
neglect intelligently

while crows sing
like refrain just grew a rose.

Sheikha A.'s poem about rain fits in well with Tad's.


The books are in their shelves.
My mind wired to the tunes

of reluctance refusing to leave
the clouds. The earth edging.

Winter’s feet have not learnt
to walk on sand. The bickering 

of rain heavy within the sky.
My pages are drier than fruits

hanging by their thin stems.
Some of us have freed.
Some of us in flight.

I grow obscurer in your gaze.
The rain loses core – 

falls like a sad song
on hollowing roofs.

Last week I played a few by Lee Morgan, so I will just play this one (relatively) early song "You Go To My Head":

Hank Mobley and Wynton Kelly play with Art Blakey and Paul Chambers on "Soul Station":

Here Mobley plays with Morgan (and a few others) on "All The Things You Are":

Kelly and Mobley perform "On a Clear Day" in Baltimore:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Welcome to Jackie Chou!

Photo by Metro96

It's been wonderful to see all of the new contributors to The Song Is... this fall/winter.  Tonight I am posting California poet Jackie Chou's piece about not driving.

Riding the Pumpkin Colored Carriage

The night approaches
As I stand by the bus bench
Gazing at every oncoming large vehicle
With hopeful eyes and extended neck
Thinking, is that the one, the 266?
Only to realize, when it gets closer
That it is another bus or a truck

I am used to this kind of night
The Los Angeles city bus
My prized mode of transportation
Takes me to pivotal occasions
Then disappears into its station
Leaving no trace of my whereabouts

After twenty minutes
The blinking lights of the 266
Finally appear from a visible distance
I wave at it with all smiles
Like a beauty queen in a parade
Forgetting the wait
The cold I have endured

I climb up its rubbery stairs
A willing bride ascending the altar
Tapping my pass and thanking the driver
It has been almost twenty years
Since the Driver Safety Department
Revoked my license
For an extensive psych history

I was not always this gracious
In my twenties I drove a pure white Ford Escort
Had a father who put a twenty dollar bill
On the ironing board every other day
For gas and maintenance

With the convenience of a car
I went to every party I knew about
In delicate dresses and three inch heels
Not the coarse clothes and sneakers
I now wear to walk between bus stops
But still, I yelled at my father
And threw furniture out the window

My father passed away in 2003
I never got my license back
I am still walking and taking the bus
Only to go where I have to go
Not where I feel like going
And becoming humbler

More appreciative everyday

Jackie Chou studied Creative Writing at USC.  She writes poetry in an attempt to construct meaning out of everyday experiences, to defy ordinary perceptions, and as an alternative to “ranting” to friends on Facebook.  She attends writing workshops and has been published locally. 

Last weekend my husband and I saw an excellent documentary on Lee Morgan: "I Called Him Morgan."  Although I've posted his music before, I am going to include a few more songs tonight.  Enjoy!  I'll try to look for something from his California albums although I have to post "Search for the New Land."

"Something Cute" was the next cut on Charisma:

I'll finish with "Absolutions," which is live from the Lighthouse in California:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Welcome to Daniel Snethen!

Finally this evening I am publishing the Great Plains poet (and biology teacher/researcher) Daniel G. Snethen's poems.  (He is primarily based in South Dakota these days.)  I have traveled through that region but never really stopped there, so it's interesting to read poetry that is informed by that part of the United States.  Certainly, as a poet, biology teacher, rancher, and researcher into the American Burying Beetle, Daniel has much insight into nature. 

an old yellar day
boar coon attacked my blue-tick
cross on Pepper’s grave


have four blind eyes,
poked out with a needle—
bound with Momma’s black sewing thread:

Christmas colored leaves
white poison ivy berries
fatal fall foilage

gentle April rains
robins feed on fresh mown lawns
earthworms in mourning

glowing northern nights
Aurora Borealis
Alaskan light-show

gyroscopic winds
cottonwoods bend, groan, and snap
Dakota cyclone

myriad snowflakes
kaleidoscopic crystals
promises of hope

ornate box turtles
kangaroo rats and yucca
Nebraska’s Sandhills

Let's add Freddie Hubbard's "First Light" into the mix:

"Red Clay" refers to another region's soil, but I think it fits well with both "First Light" and Daniel's pieces:

I want to continue with Milt Jackson's "Sunflower":

I'll finish with Ahmad Jamal's "Blue Moon" and "Invitation":